The Paper Menagerie and Other Short Stories

The Paper Menagerie and Other Short Stories

By: Ken Liu

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

The Paper Menagerie is only the second release by Ken Liu.  His first, The Grace of Kings was a novel that I read and reviewed previously.  In my review of Grace, I mentioned that if I had only given the novel 100 pages, I would have surely set it down and never returned.  I felt that the book just took way too long to really get into the meat of the story.  However, I did continue on past the first 100 pages, and eventually found that the book was  a very pleasant surprise.

One of the differences between a novel length work, such as Grace, and a short story is that you don’t get 100 pages to set the story for the reader.  In a short story, the story must immediately jump right up and grab the reader and then drag them on into the story.  In the short story medium, Liu clearly has a bit more experience and really shines.

I initially read the title story, The Paper Menagerie, as a teaser, before having the book sent my way.  There’s a reason that it’s been chosen as the title story.  It’s incredibly powerful.  The loss of culture and connection to history is one of Liu’s favorite themes, and it stands out poignantly in the title story.  Liu closes the collection out with another story that deeply explores that theme, The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary.  It’s an interesting story that is written to read like the transcripts of a documentary movie.

While I found a couple of stories to be somewhat abstract and that really just seemed like character or idea studies rather than fully fleshed out stories, the majority of the stories in this collection are highly readable.  There are also a few stars of the show.  The Paper Menagerie, The Literomancer, Good Hunting, and A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel stood out as the better stories in the collection.  At least they were my favorites.

As I mentioned in my review of Grace, Liu has a masterful grasp of language and how to warp and weave it into an excellent story.  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an excellent sampling of that mastery and really should be on readings lists for literature classes at colleges around the country. You can pick it up at Amazon.

Infinity Lost

Infinity Lost (Infinity Trilogy)

By: S. Harrison

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Infinity Lost is a YA novel about the 17 year old daughter of technology magnate Richard Blackstone.  Or, at least that’s what she’s been told.  Because Blackstone is a recluse, Infinity (Finn) is raised by the staff of the mansion where she lives.  She leads the boring life of a rich kid until she starts having strange dreams.

The book is meant to be a YA novel, so there aren’t a whole lot of deep passages, and the reading is easy.  Harrison did an incredible job of keeping the story moving and pushing the reader along.  I found myself instantly enamored of the characters and always wanted to keep going to see what would happen next.

As far as plot goes, there were parts that started to become pretty evident about half way through the book, but even so, I still wanted to read on to find out the rest of the missing pieces and see how all the parts fit together.  It’s fast paced, with no parts that I would consider boring or slow.

The one nit-pick that I have with the book is that the plots weren’t totally wrapped up by the end.  Yes, it’s a trilogy, but in most books of a series, there’s a larger plot that you don’t expect to have finished and plenty of smaller plots that do get finished.  Maybe it’s because it’s YA, but I didn’t feel like there were too many sub-plots and it was all revolving around the larger main plot which, of course, didn’t come anywhere near completion.  It clearly moved forward.

Overall, the book is an excellent sci-fi YA story, and I look forward to the next installment of the series.

You can pick Infinity Lost up on Amazon.

The Grace of Kings

The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1)

By: Ken Liu

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

I was really torn on this book.  If I had only given it the first 100 or so pages, I would have never have gone any further.  This could be why I don’t tend to try and read too many epic fantasy books.  They mostly seem to start so slow and spend so much time building the world and characters without getting anywhere, or really doing much with the plot.  The same is mostly true here. There’s enough of a cast of characters in the novel that we spend a great deal of time introducing them and getting backstory for each.  We also spend some time, rightfully, learning a bit about the history of the world that we’re entering.

Liu is a talented writer, who has a skill with prose that makes it worthwhile to continue on into the story.  Eventually, after he’s done the building, and we get into the meat of the story, the characters bring you into the plot.  The plot and characters really saved the book for me.

This is likely to be seen as one of the better epic fantasy novels of the year, and if you’re into epic fantasy, it really should be added to your to-read list.

Persona

Persona

By: Genevieve Valentine

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

The best way I can describe this is as a sci-fi thriller.  It’s set in a near-future world where something like the UN rules the world and the diplomats that we see on the television are nothing more than faces that do and say what the rest of their committee says.

By the end of the book, I found myself rooting for the main character and wanting to know more about what the future holds for her.  The secondary character is just as well written.  Overall, the plot and writing were well done, and the story was well executed.

If you’re a fan of science fiction that takes place in a world that’s only a few degrees from the world that we live in, you should give Persona a try.  I really enjoyed it, and am hoping that there’s a sequel upcoming.

 

Little Black Lies

Little Black Lies

By: Sandra Block

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again.  I really like it when a book grabs hold of me as a reader and drags me into the story.  It’s something special when a story is so well written that you jump into it and end up trying to find any extra time that you can to advance further into it.  Little Black Lies was such a book.

The one bad thing that I have to say about this book is that I had the ending figured out about half way through the book.  But, even with that fact, I still raced through it to find out if I was right.  The story is a gripping one that is fast paced and easy to read.  The characters that Block has written are both believable and lovable.

I’m not really sure how best to classify this book.  It’s both a psychological suspense and a detective book of sorts.  A mashup of genres if you want to call it that, I suppose.  In the end, it’s a highly readable book in either case.

Righteous Fury

Righteous Fury

By: Markus Heitz

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

This is the first book by Heitz that I’ve read.  The book, along with most of the rest of Heitz’s books were originally published in his native German before being translated over into English for those of us who are mono-lingual.  There’s a series that comes before this series, The Dwarves series.  From what I can tell from other reviews, and from having read this book, it’s not necessary to have read any of the other books in order to read this one.  The Dwarves series, as it’s name implies, tells the stories from the perspectives of the dwarves in this world, while Righteous Fury is the first in the Alfar series told from the perspective of the Alfar.

The Alfar are Heitz’s version of a dark elf.  At least, from what I can tell.  They’re an evil race with visual similarities to the Elven race.  The two main characters are Alfar who begin as rivals, but are forced to get along in order to execute on a plan that their rulers have chosen them for.  From there, we’re led through a journey as they fight amongst themselves, as well as with many of the other inhabitants of the world.

It’s hard for me to comment much on the actual writing of a book that’s been translated.  By default, when translated, the language had to be restructured in that most languages have a different grammatical structure than English.  So, I just won’t.  I can comment on the structure of the story though.  From a structure piece, there were a few places where it was a bit weak, and it seemed like we jumped from some dire circumstance right into the saving action.  Perhaps it was necessary, but it almost felt like the story had been written into a corner and it was the most convenient way of getting it out.

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  It’s a well written fantasy story that doesn’t extend itself into the length of the epic tomes that seem to be dominating the market just now.  I suppose it bears warning that the main characters are evil Alfar, so you’ve got to be able to get through a few grotesque descriptions and overall evilness of the people in order to really enjoy the story.

 

Pardon The Ravens

Pardon the Ravens

By: Alan Hruska

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

Ravens is billed as a legal thriller.  In that regard, I think it falls down.  While it is technically set with a main character that is a lawyer, and has some legal elements in it because of that, there’s very little of it that really qualifies it as a legal thriller, in my mind.  It does live up to the thriller part of that though.  From very nearly the start to the end, there’s plenty of twists and turns as the characters find a way to make plans then have them tossed and turned by events.

Hruska’s writing is pretty good.  Some of the dialogue felt a bit flat, but overall, that characters were well rounded and easy to understand.  This is a thriller, so don’t expect to get heaps of plot.  You get a main issue, with a few minor plot lines and an ultimate tying up of the main plot.

If you like thrillers (with a side helping of legal) that are quick reads and well done, Pardon the Ravens is worth the pickup.

Lucifer’s Hammer

Lucifer’s Hammer

By: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

Of the many genre’s I read, my favorites are Science Fiction, Fantasy, and the subset of both called Apocalyptic fiction.  If you look at most lists of the influential novels in those genres, you’ll most likely find Lucifer’s Hammer.  That’s what convinced me that I needed to add it to my to-read list and, eventually, to get around to reading it.  Having read it, I see why it’s on many of those lists.

Hammer is a novel that is based around the discovery of a new comet, and the eventual meeting of that comet with planet Earth.  The story follows a host of characters that are involved in some way before the comet arrives and then after it arrives.  Having been written in the late 70’s, some of the ideas and references are dated, but the writing has certainly stood the test of time.

Nearly the first half of the book is spent building up to the eventual impact of the comet.  We meet the characters who all have their own independent lives, and are led through so many avenues of how people might feel should they be faced with a comet that is going to pass threateningly close to Earth.  After the comet arrives, we get a wonderful post-apocalyptic story about the survival of the human race, and how those humans react to the upsetting of the world as they know it.

Lucifer’s Hammer is a great apocalyptic story that’s maintained that story despite being almost 4 decades old.  If you’re at all interested in apocalyptic fiction and haven’t read it yet, now’s the time to add it to your list.

A Better World

A Better World (Brilliance Saga #2)

By: Marcus Sakey

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

A Better World is the second book in the Brilliance Saga, a series of books about an evolution in the human race, and how the world reacts to it.  It will elicit lots of comparisons to the popular X-Men comic books, although the “mutations” are not as pronounced as they are in X-Men.  In a way, the evolutions in the world of Brilliance are a bit more believable.  The main character, for instance, has an advanced ability to recognize patterns and use those recognitions to anticipate what it is that people are going to do before they do them.  Another character has an evolved perception of time where each second for a non-brilliant is perceived as 11 seconds to him.

The world, and the characters that live in it, are all believable written. Of course, there’s a certain level of suspension of belief if you’re to fully immerse yourself into the story, but that is pretty easy in this case.  The plot lends itself to a quick read that draws the reader deeper until you find yourself pulling from all your spare time to finish it up and find out what happens.  That’s a huge sign of a great book.

If you’re a fan of well written science fiction without spaceships, or love a story with a great human story to it, the Brilliance Saga should find it’s way onto your reading list.

 

Scarlet Tides

Scarlet Tides (Moontide Quartet #2)

By David Hair

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book to review. As is my policy with books that I receive for review, if I don’t like it, I don’t review it.

In my review of the first Moontide Quartet book, Mage’s Blood, I closed with some pretty hefty praise:

When completed, the Moontide Quartet, of which Mage’s Blood is the first book, will likely be thought of as one of the best examples, in recent memory, of epic fantasy.

Fortunately, the second book in the series didn’t disappoint.  Hair maintained the same level of excellent storytelling that was throughout the first book while escaping some of the heavy world building that was necessary in Mage’s Blood.  Where some authors might be content to leave the same amount of story in a book, and just write a shorter book without as much world building, Hair didn’t do that.  Scarlet Tides is still a heavy tome with lots of excellent story inside of it.  The magic system becomes even more fleshed out as things are revealed, the world grows with new locations and characters, and there were a minimum of 3 or 4 double-cross plot twists that brought a fun level of “what next” to the story.

The copy I read was an ARC, so I won’t say too much about the writing.  There were some obvious grammatical and spelling issues, but that’s to be expected when it isn’t a final draft.  I’m sure the finished version has all of that nailed down.  Those typical ARC issues aside, Hair’s style is one that still screams epic fantasist to me.  The books are long and full of really deep character development.

If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, you’ll want to pick up Mage’s Blood and Scarlet Tides and give them a read through.  Mage’s Blood has a 3.82 star rating at Goodreads, and Scarlet Tides is currently holding on to a 4.32 star rating.